Self-Inflicted Suffering

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:15-19 ESV

As a student of human nature, Peter felt the need to address the topic of self-inflicted suffering. He knew from his own experience that not all suffering was for righteousness’ sake. His three-part denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest had resulted in a period of prolonged emotional suffering. The shame and humiliation he bore for having denied the one very whom he had confessed to being the Messiah had left him devastated and demoralized. And he did not want his brothers and sisters in Christ to confuse suffering for the sake of sin with suffering for the sake of righteousness. That’s why he told them:

…remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” – 1 Peter 1:17 NLT

The whole point of Peter’s letter was to encourage godly living among those who were privileged to be called the sons and daughters of God. He had been very clear regarding his expectation of their behavior.

God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

To do good was to emulate the character of Christ Himself. It was to live as Christ lived. And that kind of selfless, obedient, and righteous lifestyle would result in suffering. It wasn’t a matter of if, but of when. Those who followed Christ would experience the same resistance and rejection that He did. Their attempts to spread the gospel of the kingdom and demonstrate its power through their own reconciled lives would be met with hatred and hostility. But Peter reminded them, “if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you” (1 Peter 2L20 NLT).

Suffering was inevitable. But Peter wanted his readers to know that there were two different causes for suffering and they were not to be confused. Living for Christ was a sure-fire way to experience suffering. The world hated Him and it would hate His own. But Peter reminded the recipients of his letter “if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats” (1 Peter 3:14 NLT). Righteous suffering in this life would be graciously rewarded in the next one.

But every minute of every day, believers are faced with the constant decision to choose right or wrong. They must decide whether they will live in the flesh or according to the power of the Holy Spirit. They can choose to live in obedience to God and suffer the rejection and ridicule of the world, or they can choose to compromise their convictions and live according to their old sinful nature. But that decision will also result in suffering.

Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! – 1 Peter 3:17 NLT

Sinful decisions always produce sinful consequences. But when believers choose to live in disobedience to God’s will, their choices result in God’s loving discipline.

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT

After quoting from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, the author of Hebrews went on to explain, “If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all” (Hebrews 12:8 NLT). The loving discipline of God can be painful but it is a reminder of His love. Yet Peter would prefer that his believing friends avoid that kind of painful discipline by staying away from such things as “murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs” (1 Peter 4:15 NLT).

It is not clear why Peter chose to list these four particular sins. But each of them reflects a decision to do harm to another individual. They are inherently selfish sins that show no care or concern for the other person. Peter seems to be describing four different ways of life: That of a murderer, a thief, a troublemaker, or a meddler. These four ungodly pursuits stand in stark contrast to the life of a Christian. Those who practice such behavior deserver to suffer and bring shame upon themselves – even among the unbelieving world. “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian” (1 Peter 4:16 NLT). A murderer will not only suffer the penalty for his crime but he will have to endure the added pain of public shame. He will get what he deserves.

But while a Christian might suffer for doing what is good, he will have no reason to be ashamed. He can hold his head high because he is doing the will of his Heavenly Father. He is following in the footsteps of Jesus.

One of the things Peter wants his readers to understand is that their suffering is relegated to this life. As long as they live in this world, they will be “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT), and they will experience the unpleasant reality of living as strangers in a strange land. But their eternal future will be suffering-free. Paul gave a similar admonition to the believers in Corinth.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT

And Paul told the believers in Rome the very same thing.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:17-18 NLT

And Jesus told His disciples, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18 NLT). For the believer, the future holds no judgment or suffering. Yet, for all those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Savior, the future is one of judgment and eternal suffering. That is why Peter states, “what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT).

Peter understood the reality of God’s coming judgment against sinful mankind. He alluded to the fact that we live in a time of judgment. As Jesus stated, mankind lives under the righteous wrath of God and already stands judged and condemned by Him. Their only hope is to be found in Jesus. But rather than turning to Him in faith, they were turning their hatred of Him on His followers. It was just as Jesus had said it would be.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. – John 15:19 NLT

The world is “judging” God’s people. That is what Peter means when he writes, “the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). The sinful are judging the righteous. But the day is coming when the Righteous One will judge the sinful. All those who have refused to accept the gracious gift of salvation made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus will face the Great White Throne Judgment and an eternity marked by suffering and pain.

Peter paraphrases Psalm 11:31 in an attempt to illustrate the difficulty with which the believer must navigate from this life to the next. It will not be easy. We are “barely saved” in the sense that our future glorification is preceded by suffering and pain in this life. Again, Peter’s emphasis is on present suffering and future glorification. This is exactly what Jesus was referring to in His Sermon on the Mount.

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:14 ESV

Peter is unsparing in his disclosure that this life will not be easy for the follower of Christ. It will be marked by pain and suffering. But we are to remember that all our suffering takes place this side of glory. For us, eternity is suffering and judgment-free.

“He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’ and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 BSB

So, that is why Peter was able to provide his readers with the following words of encouragement.

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. – 1 Peter 4:19 NLT

You can suffer now or you can suffer later. For the believer, the choice is a simple one. It makes much more sense to suffer the momentary light afflictions of this life, knowing that there will be no more pain, suffering, or judgment in the life to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

In the Same Way…

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:7-12 ESV

For the second time, Peter uses the Greek word, ὁμοίως (homoiōs), which can be translated, “in the same way.” He incorporated it in his admonition to Christian women whose husbands had not yet placed their faith in Christ. And in the same way that Peter expected bond slaves to submit to their masters, he was calling on these believing women to express godly submission to their unbelieving husbands. Peter was not suggesting that these women were no better than slaves or that they needed to assume some kind of subservient relationship to their husbands. For Peter, it was all about godly conduct and living as servants of God. That’s why he told the entire congregation to “Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king” (1 Peter 3:17 NLT).

As daughters of God, the believing wives in this local congregation were expected to ”be subject to” to their husbands. He was encouraging them to willingly come under their husband’s leadership as the God-ordained head of the household. There was a divinely mandated order of roles and responsibilities within the marriage relationship, and it had nothing to do with capabilities or qualifications. The apostle Paul articulated the very same pattern for leadership that God established for the home.

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. – Ephesians 5:21-24 NLT

Notice how Paul presents submission as an all-encompassing requirement for the people of God. We’re all supposed to submit to one another – outr of reverence for Christ. And when a woman submits to her husband’s leadership, she is actually submitting to the authority of Jesus Himself. As members of Christ’s body, every believer daily submits themselves to Christ’s headship. They willingly come under His leadership and live as His humble servants, in whatever circumstance in which they find themselves – as citizens, slaves, wives, and, yes, as husbands.

After addressing the wives, Peter turns his attention to believing husbands, and he uses that same Greek word, ὁμοίως,  again. In “the same way” that wives are to submit to their husbands,  so husbands are to live with their wives in “an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7 ESV). Peter does not delineate whether the wife is a believer or not. In that culture, the woman was expected to follow her husband’s lead and accept whatever faith he chose for the family. The woman had no say in the matter. But Peter doesn’t want believing husbands to use their God-given authority in a unsympathetic or coercive way. That’s why he recommends that husbands display an intimate “knowledge” of their wives. A Christian husband was to take the time to understand his wife’s temperament and emotions. He was to cultivate a healthy respect for her unique physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. This would require listening to what she had to say and actively ministering to her needs. And that would require submission.

Peter wanted godly men to understand that their wives were vessels of honor, worthy of their respect and deserving of their care and protection. His reference to the wife as the “weaker vessel” was not intended as a slight or a declaration of her lesser value. In other words, this has nothing to do with superiority and inferiority. The term “weaker vessel” has to do with strength, not value. The Greek word is ἀσθενής (asthenēs) and it means “without strength.” The Greek word for “vessel” is σκεῦος (skeuos) and it has to do with a household utensil. It could be used to refer to a fragile clay pot or even a more expensive pitcher made of fine porcelain. Paul used the same word when referring to the believer’s body in which “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” resides (2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV).

But we have this treasure in jars [σκεῦος] of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

Christians husbands are to view their wives as priceless in value and vulnerable to spiritual attack. As heads of their household, these men were expected to protect and honor their wives, treating them as fellow heirs of the inheritance of faith. If a believing husband had a wife who shared his faith, he was to view her as a co-heir of “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). He was no better than her. He was no more deserving of God’s grace and mercy that she was.

But even if his wife was not a believer, the husband was still expected to love and honor her as a priceless treasure given to him by God. To drive home the seriousness of this matter, Peter announces that a failure to do so will result in unanswered prayer. A husband could not treat his wife with dishonor or disrespect and expect God to hear and answer his prayers.

Finally, Peter turns his attention back to the church as a whole.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. – 1 Peter 3:8-9 NLT

After getting specific with slaves, wives, and husbands, Peter addressed the need for the entire congregation to embrace unity, mutual submission, sacrificial love, and humility. There was no place in the body of Christ for revenge or retaliation. Brothers and sisters in Christ might inadvertently hurt one another, but they were to respond with grace, mercy, and forgiveness. As transformed followers of Christ, they were no longer to live out of their old lifestyles. They were new creations who were each equipped with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

And Peter wraps up his admonition by quoting from Psalm 34:12-16.

“If you want to enjoy life
    and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
Turn away from evil and do good.
    Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face
    against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12 NLT

Each of these people had come to faith in Christ hoping that they would experience a joyful and prosperous life. But instead, they were having to endure persecution and rejection. They were facing trials and tribulations of all kinds, and the natural tendency was to react with anger, resentment, and even hatred toward those who were the source of their problems. But Peter calls them to refrain from speaking evil, to speak truth rather than lies, and to do good rather than evil. In no way does Peter suggest that their trials are going to go away if they do these things. His reference to “happy days” is not intended as a promise of a trouble-free life.

By reacting to the unpleasant circumstances in a Christlike manner, they could experience true joy. This is exactly what James wrote in the book that bears his name.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT

Their relationship with Christ might not alter their circumstances, but through the power of the Spirit, they could see a marked difference in their reaction to them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Best Is Yet To Come

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:36-49 ESV

Just as the two disciples were sharing about their recent encounter with Jesus, the eyes of everyone in the room were suddenly drawn away by the sudden and unexpected appearance of Jesus. The majority of the people in the room had not yet seen Jesus, so His arrival caught them completely off guard. According to John’s gospel account, “the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19 NLT), and yet Jesus had no trouble gaining access. He just appeared out of nowhere. And in that moment, the rumors became reality.  The claims of Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the two disciples from Emmaus were miraculously corroborated by Jesus Himself. The could see Him with their own eyes and hear the sound of His voice as He said, “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36 ESV).

But His words fell on deaf ears and His inexplicable appearance produced fear rather than joy. Their dazed and confused minds wrestled to make sense of what they were seeing and hearing. Unable to mentally process the scene taking place before them, they concluded that they were seeing things – specifically, a ghost. This was the same conclusion they had reached when Jesus appeared to them walking on the water (Matthew 14:26). They had no mental category for dealing with what they were seeing. Even though many of them had been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they were having a difficult time believing that Jesus was truly alive. They were quick to write off His appearance as little more than an apparition.

But the ever-compassionate Jesus, lovingly asked them, “Why are you frightened?…Why are your hearts filled with doubt?” (Luke 24:38 NLT). The sound of His voice was meant to reassure them that He was real and not a figment of their imaginations. They were not experiencing a mass hallucination. There was no reason for them to fear and no cause for them to doubt. His appearance was living proof of what the angel had said. “He is risen from the dead!” (Luke 24:6 NLT). Jesus was standing right in front of them – in the flesh. And to prove He was anything but a ghost, Jesus showed them His wounds, stating, “Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do” (Luke 24:39 NLT).

Even in His resurrected body, Jesus retained the wounds He had received as part of His crucifixion. The holes from the nails were still evident. The wound caused by the spear still marred His side. The punctures from the thorny crown still adorned His head. The ragged stripes from HIs flogging were clearly visible for all to see. He retained all the marks associated with His sacrificial death. And yet, He was alive. In a sense, He still bore on His body the evidence of mankind’s sin debt. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). His wounds remained but man’s sin debt had been removed – as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

But even as they tried to take it all in, the disciples wrestled with an odd mix of joy and disbelief. They were ecstatic and skeptical at the same time. Their hearts were overjoyed and their brains were overtaxed. It was just too much to take in. Recognizing their troubled state, Jesus graciously provided them with further proof of His physicality. He asked for something to eat. And as the disciples looked on in awkward silence, Jesus ate the piece of broiled fish they had offered Him.

Having finished His meal, Jesus turned His attention once again to His disciples. His time on earth was coming to an end and He had much to tell them before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. And, just as He had done with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 ESV). Using the Old Testament Scriptures as His text, Jesus revealed how everything that had happened since the day of His incarnation had been all according to the sovereign plan of God the Father. He declared, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44 ESV). And not long after He spoke these words, the last part of this phase of His mission would be fulfilled. He would ascend back to heaven and send the Holy Spirit to indwell His followers. All in keeping with and in fulfillment of the will of His Heavenly Father.

Jesus assured His disciples that His death had all been part of the plan.

“Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” – Luke 24:46 NLT

The Sanhedrin and the Romans had been little more than tools in the hands of God Almighty. They had been His instruments for fulfilling the divine plan of redemption through the selfless sacrifice of His one and only Son. Then Jesus reminded them of the role they would play in His absence. He would be leaving them but they would carry on His ministry.

“It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’” – Luke 24:47 NLT

They were to be a light to the nations. These men and women who had gathered behind locked doors out of fear for their lives would become the vanguard of a might movement of God that would shake the world. They were about to discover the truth of the promise Jesus had made to them.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. – John 14:12 NLT

When He returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit would come, and with His arrival, they would experience a source of power that would transform them into agents of change who would revolutionize the world. And as He prepared to depart, He once again assured them that He would not leave them alone or powerless to face the future.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 24:49 NLT

All they had to do was wait and believe. Jesus wasn’t demanding that they be successful. He was simply reminding them to be faithful. Wait and watch. Rest and be ready. They were about to become instruments in the hands of God Almighty, accomplishing His divine will through the indwelling presence and power of His Spirit. They were about to grasp the reality that Jesus death had been the beginning and not the end. The best was yet to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Is Risen!

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. Luke 24:1-12 ESV

According to Luke, a group of women had “who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee” (Luke 23:55 NLT), had watched Joseph and Nicodemus as they buried His body. Because the Sabbath was about to begin, they went away “and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56 NLT), with the intention of returning once the Sabbath was over.

Early on Sunday morning, the women returned to the garden and the tomb of Jesus. Luke reveals that the group was made up of Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary the mother of James, and a few other unnamed women. In his gospel, Mark dispels any thought that they were expecting to find an empty tomb and a risen Lord. He indicates that they had “bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1 ESV). In the frenetic moments after Jesus’ death, Joseph and Nicodemus had been the only ones who had done anything to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. According to John, Nicodemus had brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight” (John 19:29 ESV) with which to anoint the body. But none of Jesus’ followers had been able to participate in this final expression of grief and honor. So, these women made their way to the tomb with that end in mind, and they had even discussed who they could get to roll away the stone so they could gain access to the body. They were fully expecting to find a dead man, not a risen Savior.

But they were in for a surprise. When they arrived at the tomb, they witnessed a life-altering, world-changing event of truly epic proportions. And their sober and somber expectations would be radically realigned by what they saw.

As they walked up to the tomb, burial spices in hand, the ground shook violently, and an angel descended from heaven. This divine emissary promptly had rolled away the massive stone that had sealed the tomb’s entrance, breaking the seal placed on it by Pilate (Matthew 27:64-66).

The angel’s supernatural strength and dazzling appearance left the guards in a state of shock. Matthew describes them as becoming ‘“like dead men.” They had been tasked with preventing the followers of Jesus from stealing His body, something the Jewish religious leaders feared they would do so that they might claim He had risen from the dead. But rather than a rag-tag group of Galilean disciples, these battle-hardened soldiers were confronted by an agent of God Almighty.

The women, having witnessed this remarkable event, still made their way into the tomb and were perplexed to find it empty (Luke 24:3-4). The body was gone. Luke records that the angel who rolled away the stone was accompanied by a second angel. And these two heavenly beings confronted the women, asking them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 ESV). But before the women could respond, the angels informed them, “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6 ESV).

They had come seeking and expecting to find a dead man. But, to their shock and surprise, they were informed that the one they sought was alive. This entire encounter must have left the women dealing with a strange mixture of elation and confusion. Could it be true? Was Jesus really alive? This news was too good to be true. But the angels didn’t give the women time to dwell on the shocking nature of their announcement. They commanded them, “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you” (Matthew 28:7 ESV).

Matthew reports that they did as they were told “with fear and great joy” (Matthew 28:8 ESV). And as if this news was not enough to elevate their endorphin levels and raise their heart rates, their journey to tell the disciples was interrupted by a personal encounter with Jesus Himself. Matthew records that “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). This totally unexpected reunion with their formerly deceased friend and master was too much for them. All they could do was bow down and worship Him. And Jesus calmed their fears, telling them to take the news of His resurrection to His disciples and to request that they meet Him in Galilee.

When reading the various gospel accounts of this event, there seem to be contradictions. Was there one angel or two? Did Mary Magdalene arrive at the tomb on her own or with the other women? But by piecing the various gospel accounts together, you arrive at a credible chronology that provides an accurate accounting of the order of events.

First, Luke records that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome started for the tomb (Luke 23:55-24:1). When they arrived, they found the stone rolled away (Luke 24:2-9). According to John’s account, Mary Magdaline was the first to arrive at the tomb and find it empty. She ran to tell the disciples the news (John 20:1-2). It was Mary the mother of James, who arrived next and encountered the angel (Matthew 28:1-2). She ran back to tell the other women who were bringing the spices they had prepared to anoint the body of Jesus.

In the meantime, Peter and John arrived on the scene, discovered the tomb empty, just as Mary Magdalene had said, and then departed (John 20:3-10). The disciples had evidently outrun Mary Magdalene, because she returned to the tomb, weeping, still unaware that Jesus was alive. All she knew was that the tomb was empty. But she was greeted by the two angels and then Jesus Himself (John 20:11-18), who told her to tell the disciples (John 20:17-18). According to Luke’s account, Mary the mother of James returned with the women (Luke 24:1-4), saw the two angels, and heard their message (Luke 24:5; Mark 16:5; Matthew 28:6-8). It was while they were on their way to find the disciples that these women had their encounter with the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10).

What an incredible morning! What a shocking sequence of events. None of these people had expected this to happen, even though Jesus had repeatedly told them He would rise again on the third day. He had tried to assure them that His death would be followed by His resurrection, but that part of the story had never registered with them. Until now.

He was alive. As the angel had said, “He is not here, but has risen.” The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive and well, and they were witnesses of that incredible fact. The one whom they had watched die a brutal death on the cross, just three days earlier, was fully alive. The women had touched His feet. They had heard Him speak. And He had promised to meet them in Galilee. All of this was beyond their wildest imaginations. Their sorrow had suddenly been turned to joy. Their weeping had turned to laughter. Their disappointment and disillusionment had given way to hope and happiness.

Jesus had won a stunning victory over death. He had conquered the grave. And His actions would leave His enemy, Satan, reeling from the shock of it all. The high priest and the Sanhedrin would refuse to believe it. But it was true. He was alive. And, as the apostle Paul reminds us, that irrefutable news is good news to all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NLT

A new day had dawned and things would never be the same again. As the old hymn so aptly puts it:

Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Something Worth Rejoicing About

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” – Luke 10:17-20 ESV

With everything else that has been revealed about the 12 disciples of Jesus, it would be difficult not to imagine that they were a little bit irritated that with His sending of the 72. After all, these were the same men whom Jesus had reprimanded because they had been arguing which one of them was the greatest (Luke 9:46). And they shared a common belief that they were members of Jesus’ inner circle, conferring on them the exclusive rights and privileges to perform miracles in His name.

John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t in our group.” – Luke 9:49 ESV

As those who had been chosen to be Jesus’ disciples, the 12 had reason to believe that their relationship with Him somehow made them special and gave them access to privileges and powers not available to any of His other followers. When Jesus had sent them out on their first missionary journey, He had given them “power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases” (Luke 9:1 NLT). So, when they stood by and watched as Jesus chose 72  of His followers and conferred on them the power to heal (Luke 10:9), it must have left the 12 disciples with confused minds and deflated egos.  And we can only imagine how the disciples must have felt as the 72 began to trickle back in and excitedly share the reports of their excursions with Jesus. Luke records that they were overjoyed and eager to tell Jesus the good news.

“Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” – Luke 10:17 ESV

This bit of information must have struck a nerve with the 12 disciples. If you recall, not long after they had returned from their first missionary journey, they had been confronted by a man who begged them to cast out an evil spirit from his son. But the disciples had been unable to do so.

“I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” – Mark 9:18 NLT

And yet, not long before this encounter, these very same men had proven they were more than capable of handling everything from diseases to demons.

…they cast out many demons and healed many sick people. – Mark 6:13 NLT

Now, the disciples were having to listen as these 26 pairs of messengers regaled Jesus with their exploits. Their excited disclosures must have left the disciples feeling jealous and more than a bit conflicted.

And it probably didn’t help that Jesus seemed to applaud the efforts of the 72 when He stated, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18 ESV). It is difficult to know exactly what Jesus meant but the disciples could have easily taken this to be some kind of a statement of approval. It is almost as if He is declaring that He had a ring-side seat to Satan’s defeat as the 72 displayed their power over demonic forces. But there are many who believe Jesus was comparing their experience with His own. In other words, He is putting their experience in proper perspective. There are those who believe that Jesus’ reference to Satan’s fall was meant to declare His deity and authority. As the Son of God, He had been there when Satan attempted to rebel against God but suffered defeat and a demotion for his efforts. The details surrounding this event are recorded by the prophet, Ezekiel.

“You were the model of perfection,
    full of wisdom and exquisite in beauty.
You were in Eden,
    the garden of God.
Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone—
    red carnelian, pale-green peridot, white moonstone,
    blue-green beryl, onyx, green jasper,
    blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and emerald—
all beautifully crafted for you
    and set in the finest gold.
They were given to you
    on the day you were created.
I ordained and anointed you
    as the mighty angelic guardian.
You had access to the holy mountain of God
    and walked among the stones of fire.

“You were blameless in all you did
    from the day you were created
    until the day evil was found in you.
Your rich commerce led you to violence,
    and you sinned.
So I banished you in disgrace
    from the mountain of God.
I expelled you, O mighty guardian,
    from your place among the stones of fire.
Your heart was filled with pride
    because of all your beauty.
Your wisdom was corrupted
    by your love of splendor.
So I threw you to the ground
    and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings.” – Ezekiel 28:12-17 NLT

While Ezekiel obviously intended this passage to describe the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:11), many scholars believe it provides a prophetic picture of Satan’s fall from glory, as mentioned by the prophet, Isaiah.

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground…” – Isaiah 14:12 ESV

In Luke’s passage, it appears that Jesus is making a reference to Satan’s fall in order to make a point to his enthusiastic followers. They had been blown away that the demons had been subject to their commands. But Jesus seems to be encouraging them to tap the brakes a bit. His reference to Satan’s fall may be His way of reminding them of His divinity. While they were able to cast out demons in the power of Jesus’ name, He was there in eternity past when God the Father cast Satan out of heaven. Their ability to cast out demons was the result of God’s sovereign authority over all things. And Jesus assures His followers that, as the Son of God, He has the right to assign authority to His followers.

“I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you.” – Luke 10:19 NLT

Once again, the 12 must have been discomfited by Jesus words. This declaration by Jesus to His 72 followers would have likely produced in His disciples a certain degree of jealousy. But little did they know that all of this was intended to encourage them. Just before sending out the 72, Jesus had declared, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2 ESV). The 12 disciples did not yet understand the full scope of the ministry that God had in store for them. With Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, His earthly mission would come to an end, but the ministry concerning the kingdom of God would continue unabated. Yet, they would not be able to do it alone. With His commissioning of the 72, Jesus had shown the disciples that there would be others who would help them bear that weight of the kingdom mission. They would not be doing it alone.

And, Jesus assured them that this shared authority would protect all those who ministered on behalf of Jesus in the days to come. His reference to snakes and scorpions seems to be an illusion to the demonic realm. These two creatures were poisonous and potentially deadly, providing an apt metaphor for the spiritual forces that would be arrayed against Christ’s followers. The apostle Paul would later discuss the other-worldly host that aligns itself against God’s children.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Jesus’ disciples did not yet grasp the cosmic nature of their mission. They were stuck on a physical plane, viewing the kingdom of God as a temporal reality that would manifest itself in an earthly realm ruled over by Jesus, the Christ. And they were hoping they would rule and reign alongside Him. Their concept of the kingdom focused on the defeat of Rome and the restoration of Israel’s rightful place as the children of God and their heirs of the kingdom.

Even after Jesus had died and resurrected, the disciples would hold onto this hope of Israel’s immediate return to glory. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 ESV). Even then, they were still envisioning an earthly kingdom where all the enemies of Israel had been eradicated, including the Romans.

But Jesus wanted them to know that their true enemy was Satan, not Caesar. And the deliverance they desperately needed was not from Roman oppression but from enslavement to sin and the death sentence that accompanied it. Jesus was revealing to His followers that this world was not the end game. There was far more at stake here than temporal victories over demons and disease. While those things were impressive, they were not eternal. Those individuals who received deliverance from demons were not necessarily free from future possession. And all those who received healing from disease would still be susceptible to illness and destined for death.

The kingdom of God had a future aspect that the disciples did not yet understand or appreciate. But Jesus alluded to it when He said, “don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven” (Luke 10:20 NLT). This appears to be a reference to the book of life, in which God records the names of all those who belong to Him. The apostle John records the words of Jesus discussing this book with the believers in the church in Sardis.

“All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. – Revelation 3:5 NLT

Jesus wants His disciples to know that His ultimate victory over Satan, sin, and death, will have far greater and longer-lasting implications than their temporal successes over demons and disease. Those victories are little more than shadows of the greater victory to come. And when Jesus has successfully accomplished the will of His Father and completed His earthly mission, the disciples and all those who believe in His name will receive everlasting deliverance from disease and death in the form of eternal life. And it is in that marvelous reality that they should find joy, encouragement, and hope.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Counter-Cultural Commitment

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. Luke 6:20-26 ESV

There are some biblical scholars who have noted the discrepancies between Matthew’s record of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and what Luke describes in chapter six of his gospel. Based on this, they have titled Luke’s version as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” One of the reasons for this is the location. Luke clearly states that Jesus came down from the mountain and “stood on a level place” (Luke 6:17 ESV), while Matthew indicates that Jesus delivered His message while “on the mountain” (Matthew 5:1 ESV). But then there is also an obvious difference in the content of the message. Luke records that Jesus’ sermon contained four beatitudes and an equal number of woes, while Matthew’s account has Him delivering nine beatitudes and no woes at all. Yet it does not seem necessary to conclude that these were two separate sermons delivered on two different occasions. Once again, each gospel author had a primary purpose behind his effort to chronicle the words and the works of Jesus. As a result, they chose to include or exclude different details in an effort to support their thesis and to better communicate with their particular audience.

Luke’s mention of Jesus standing on “a level place” could simply mean that Jesus found a more stable place from which to deliver His message. The Greek word is pedinos, and it derives from a root word that means “foot.” In a sense, the word pedinos refers to a place that is “easy on the feet.” Jesus was about to give a lengthy message and wanted to find a comfortable place from which to deliver it. So, He found a relatively level spot on the mountainside from which to address the crowd.

But Matthew and Luke are in agreement when they mention that Jesus focused His attention on His disciples. Matthew records that as soon as Jesus sat down, “his disciples came to him” (Matthew 5:1 ESV). And Luke adds that Jesus “lifted up his eyes on his disciples” (Luke 6:20 ESV) and began to speak to them. What He was about to say was primarily directed at His disciples, the twelve men He had just chosen to be His apostles. But there was a large crowd that had gathered to hear Him speak and His words would have relevance for them as well. It is important to recall that the audience contained two types of people: “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17 ESV). There were those who believed Jesus to be the Messiah and those who were there out of curiosity. Even since John the Baptist had begun his ministry in the wilderness of Judea, news had spread about the possibility of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Rumors had spread about the arrival of the Messiah. And as the news got out about Jesus’ miracles, more and more people were drawn to see if this Rabbi from Nazareth was the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression and restore Israel to power and prominence.

And Jesus begins His message with the provocative statement: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20 ESV). Right off the bat, He addresses the issue of the kingdom. But He does so in a way that must have left everyone in the audience baffled and surprised. He associated the Kindom of God with the poor, something no self-respecting Jew would have done. To their way of thinking, to be poor was a curse. It was a sign of God’s displeasure. But Jesus says that they are actually “blessed” (makarios). The Greek word conveys the idea of being fortunate or well off because of the favor of God. But to the Jews, the blessings of God were always associated with abundance and riches, not poverty and deprivation.

To those who were living in poverty, this message would have been encouraging and confusing at the same time. It made no sense. It went against everything they believed and understood about God. But what they probably failed to grasp was that Jesus was talking about a different kind of poverty. Matthew describes Jesus addressing “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3 ESV). Jesus seems to have been focusing on spiritual poverty or humility. He is describing the individual who understands his or her total reliance upon God for all their needs. They are submissive and obedient, willing to place their hope and trust in the gracious hands of their loving and merciful God. And Jesus countered this mindset by pronouncing a woe on all those who viewed themselves as rich or self-sufficient.

“…woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” – Luke 6:24 ESV

Years later, the apostle John would record in the book of Revelation the words that he heard Jesus speak to the church in Laodicea. Jesus accused them of spiritual pride and arrogance, a condition that had left them with a lukewarm faith that Jesus found repugnant:

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” – Revelation 3:17 NLT

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that the Kingdom of God was reserved for those who recognized their spiritual poverty and their need for a Savior. There was no place in God’s kingdom for the prideful, arrogant, and self-righteous.

Next, Jesus adds, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21 ESV), and He counters it with “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry” (Luke 6:25 ESV). Once again, Jesus is speaking in spiritual and not physical terms. But His words concerning hunger and blessedness would have been just as confusing to His audience as His mention of the blessing of poverty. Physical hunger was an everyday reality for many in Israel. The exorbitant taxes of the Roman government made it difficult for the average Israelite to make ends meet. So, where was the blessing in that. But Matthew reveals that Jesus was focusing on a specific kind of hunger.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. – Matthew 5:6 ESV

As Jesus had told Satan during His temptation in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 ESV). And as Jesus would later tell His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:4 ESV). According to Jesus, there was more to life than food and drink. The Kingdom of God was reserved for those who placed a higher priority on doing the will of God than on their own physical needs. His disciples were going to learn that deprivation and hunger would be part of their everyday experience as His followers. They would occasionally go without meals. They would sleep in uncomfortable conditions, endure many hardships, face trials, and find themselves despised by the religious leaders of israel. But in the end, they would find satisfaction in following Jesus.

And Jesus adds, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21 ESV). Which He counters with, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25 ESV). Jesus wanted His disciples to know that life was going to be difficult on this side of heaven. His coming was not going to usher in an earthly utopia where Rome was defeated and Israel once again enjoyed a renewed period of peace and prosperity. The days ahead would be filled with trials, difficulties, and sorrow. But the future would be filled with joy and laughter. The days ahead would require great sacrifice, but the future reward was well worth it. But for all those who wanted to focus on living their best life now, to enjoy heaven on earth, Jesus warns that the future will be a time of weeping and mourning.

Finally, Jesus tells His disciples, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22 ESV). But He also warns them, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26 ESV).

These men were going to learn that following Jesus was a costly endeavor. There were hoping for immediate reward, in the form of positions of power and responsibility in His earthly kingdom. But they would soon discover that their alignment with Jesus was going to be anything but an earthly promotion. They would be hated, reviled, and slandered because of their association with Jesus. And the day would come when they had to watch their friend, teacher, and Messiah die on a cross as punishment for His crime of being the King of the Jews. If they were looking for the praise of men they had signed up for the wrong team. Their mission would face constant opposition. Their efforts would be ridiculed and their words would be rejected. But Jesus assures them that they will find favor with God and a place in His Kingdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

One More Thing to Do

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. John 20:11-18 ESV

John indicates that he and Peter left the empty tomb and “went back to their homes” (John 20:10 ESV). The Greek phrase eis ta idia can also be translated as “to their own.” and since it is unlikely that either of these men had private homes in Jerusalem, it seems more plausible that John is saying that they rejoined the other disciples. But he also indicates that Mary Magdalene lingered at the graveside. She had returned with the two disciples after she had told them about the empty tomb and the missing body of Jesus.

Left by herself, Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb weeping. She was overcome with sadness and grief at this second blow to her hopes and dreams. Not only was Jesus dead, but now His body was missing as well. Could things get any worse? But she decided to take one last look into the empty tomb.

And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. – John 20:12 ESV

Imagine the shock and surprise she must have felt at this unexpected sight. While John describes these two individuals as angels, there is no indication that Mary Magdalene recognized them as divine beings. When one of them asked the reason for her tears, she responded rather matter-of-factly, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13 ESV). Her answer reveals her lingering sorrow over the loss of her friend, the one who had miraculously cast seven demons from her (Luke 8:2). Jesus had freed her from demonic possession and she had hoped that He was Israel’s Messiah, who would free them from their subjugation to Rome. 

But how does John’s narrative fit in with that of Mark’s? In his gospel, Mark indicates that Mary went to the tomb with Mary the mother of James and Salome, in order to anoint the body of Jesus with spices (Mark 16:1). Finding the stone that sealed the tomb had been rolled away, they entered, and “saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:5 NET).

This “young man,” who was actually an angel, told them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7 NET). Despite the angel’s words, “they went out and ran from the tomb, terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 NET).

But what about Mary Magdalene? Why does John describe her as being at the tomb alone and encountering two angels, not one? It would seem that Mary Magdalene and the other two women had traveled together to the tomb that morning, but that she was the first to arrive and find the tomb empty. She immediately left and ran to tell Peter and John. In the meantime, the other two women arrived and encountered the angel. In shock and terror, they ran from the scene but told no one what they had heard and seen. But Mary Magdalene had leter returned with Peter and John. When the two men had entered the tomb, they had seen nothing but the discarded burial cloth. But when Mary Magdalene had entered on her own, she had been greeted by the two angels.

Most likely, she believed these two men to be groundskeepers or gardeners, so John indicates that, having found the tomb empty, she turned to leave. And when she did, she found herself staring into the face of the risen Jesus. But she failed to recognize Him. John provides no explanation for her inability to recognize Jesus. Perhaps she was suffering from shock. But she would not be the only one who would encounter the risen Jesus and fail to recognize Him. Luke describes two unnamed followers of Jesus who were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, having just witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. They were discussing all that had happened in Jerusalem when, suddenly, they found themselves joined by a “stranger.”

Jesus himself approached and began to accompany them (but their eyes were kept from recognizing him). – Luke 24:15-16 NET

They too failed to recognize Jesus. And the text seems to indicate that they were miraculously prevented from doing so. This could have been the case with Mary as well. But whatever the reason for her memory lapse, when this third man spoke to her, she just assumed he was a gardener. He asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?,” and she sadly responded, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15 ESV).

She had come to the tomb expecting to find the lifeless body of her friend and healer, and she had found nothing. At no point does she show any signs that she believed Jesus might be alive. There are no indications that she considered His resurrection as a possible explanation to the empty tomb. She was still hoping to find a body. And her failure to believe what Jesus had said about rising again is made all the more glaring by the fact that He was standing right in front of her.

But when He addressed her by name, everything changed.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). – John 20:16 NLT

She was not even looking at Him when He spoke. She was too busy grieving over her loss and wondering what she was going to do next. But as soon as she heard Jesus speak her name, she turned abruptly and immediately recognized the one whom she had thought to be dead. Her grief was replaced by overwhelming joy and she impulsively wrapped her arms around Jesus, refusing to let Him go. But Jesus lovingly rebuked her, saying, “Don’t cling to me, for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17 NLT).

For Mary Magdalene, the sudden reappearance of Jesus was more than she could have ever dreamed or imagined. He was alive! In a split second, her sorrow had been turned to joy. It must have been similar to the overwhelming sense of freedom and relief she had felt when Jesus released her from the control of the seven demons. But Jesus wanted Mary Magdalene to know that His reappearance would be short-lived. He would not be staying. And He knew that the vice-like grip with which she held Him revealed her desire that He never leave her again.

But there was more for Him to do. He had risen from the dead so that He might return to His Father’s side. His work was done. He had finished what He had come to do. And He had told the disciples that His departure would be necessary and for their own good.

But now I am going away to the one who sent me…But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.” – John 16:6, 7 NLT

And Jesus gave Mary Magdalene an important assignment. She was to find the disciples and give them a message.

“But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” – John 20:18 NLT

Notice the nature of Jesus’ message for the disciples. He didn’t instruct her to tell them that He was risen or alive. He wanted her to let them know that He was ascending to His Father, whom He described as “my God and your God.” Jesus was returning to His rightful place at His Father’s side. This was something Jesus had repeatedly told His disciples was going to happen.

“I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. – John 7:33 NLT

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. – John 14:12 NLT

“Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am.” – John 14:28 NLT

“But now I am going away to the one who sent me…” – John 16:5 NLT

“Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.” – John 16:10 NLT

“Yes, I came from the Father into the world, and now I will leave the world and return to the Father.” – John 16:28 NLT

As vital as the crucifixion and resurrection were to God’s redemptive plan, the ascension of Jesus was absolutely crucial. With Jesus’ departure, the Spirit of God would come to take up residence within each and every one of His followers. They would receive “power from on high” (Luke 24:49 ESV), enabling them to “do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12 NLT).

And Mary Magdalene faithfully followed His instructions, finding the disciples and telling them that Jesus was alive and well, and passing on to them the news that He would soon be ascending to the Father.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sorrow Turned to Joy

19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:19-24 ESV

Seven times in just four verses, John records Jesus using the phrase, “a little while.” It is the Greek word mikron, and it refers to a small or brief space of time. Jesus basically told His disciples that it would not be much longer before He would be gone. But then He followed up that bit of bad news by assuring them that, in no time at all, they would see Him again. Rather than finding Jesus’ words encouraging, the disciples became further confused and increasingly anxious. They had no idea what He was talking about. He seemed to be speaking in riddles that left them with more questions than answers. And, while Jesus had so much more He wanted to share with them, He knew they lacked the mental and emotional bandwidth to handle it.

Jesus, always alert and aware of what was going on in His disciples’ hearts, heard them discussing among themselves.

“What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” – John 16:18 ESV

They were afraid to admit their ignorance to Jesus, so they polled one another, hoping that one of them might have a clue as to what He was talking about. But Jesus, knowing that they were dying for an explanation, graciously answered the question they were too scared to ask.

Their confusion revolved around that little Greek word, mikron. They wanted to know just how long “a little while” was going to be. In other words, they were focused on the length of time, rather than on the events themselves and their subsequent outcome. How long would it be before they could no longer see Jesus? How much time did they have left? And then, how long would they have to wait before they could see Him again?

These men were stuck on an earthly plane, unable to see behind the veil and incapable of understanding the spiritual dimension of the moment. Jesus had already told them all that was going to take place in Jerusalem, but they had failed to grasp the significance of His words.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” – Matthew 20:18-19 ESV

Just two days before the Passover Festival was to begin, Jesus had reiterated the details concerning His fate to His disciples.

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” – Matthew 26:2 ESV

And later, on the Mount of Olives, just outside of the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus would add another new twist to the pending proceedings.

“You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” – Matthew 26:31-32 ESV

Jesus had spoken to them about His death and resurrection, but the news appears to have gone in one ear and out the other. It had never fully registered with them. In fact, Matthew provides powerful proof that the disciples had failed to comprehend what Jesus had told them. It seems that immediately after Jesus had announced He would be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned to death, mocked, flogged, crucified, and raised on the third day, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a request.

“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” – Matthew 20:21 ESV

And the text reveals that these two brothers were standing right next to their mother when she made this request on their behalf. They were hoping for positions of power and prominence in Jesus’ earthly kingdom. They believed Him to be the Messiah and were fully expecting Him to rule as the King of Israel from David’s throne in Jerusalem. Nothing of what Jesus had said to them about His death and resurrection had sunk in. And now, as He revealed to them that time was running out and His death was at hand, they were still unable to get their minds around the epic nature of what was happening around them.

And Jesus breaks the news to them that things were going to get worse before they got better.

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. – John 16:20 NLT

The unbelieving world, comprised of the Jewish religious leaders and all those former followers of Jesus who had turned their backs on Him, would rejoice over His death. But all those who believed Him to be the Messiah would weep and mourn because His death would be proof that they had been wrong. Their hopes would be dashed. Their eager anticipation that their Savior had come would die alongside Jesus as He hung on the cross.

But Jesus gives them the good news: “You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy” (John 16:21 NLT). Their sorrow will be real, but it will also be brief. It will only last “a little while.” Just when everything appears dark and grim, something remarkable will take place. And the words of Jesus will be fulfilled. 

“…the Son of Man…will be raised on the third day.” – Matthew 20:19 NLT

Just three days after being placed in a grave and written off as a failure and a fraud, Jesus will appear to His disciples. They will see Him again. And while the period of time is significant, it pales in comparison to the reality of the resurrection. For the disciples, those three days will feel like an eternity. They will be days filled with fear, sorrow, confusion, and a growing sense of despair. All will look lost. The future will appear bleak. But then, the impossible will take place. And their sorrow will be turned into joy. They will discover the truth of the psalm written by King David.

Weeping may last through the night,
    but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5 NLT

Jesus doesn’t diminish the reality of their sorrow and suffering. Instead, He puts it into perspective by comparing it to a woman in labor. In the midst of giving birth, she suffers very real and intense pain. It is overwhelming and all-consuming. And while her labor may seem to last an eternity, it will all be over in “a little while.” And all the suffering will turn to overwhelming joy because it has resulted in the birth of a child.

“…her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world.” – John 16:21 NLT

And Jesus lets His disciples know that what they are experiencing is natural and normal, and to be expected. But like the birth of a child, their suffering and sorrow will be turned into joy and celebration when they see the miracle of “new birth” that God will bring about through the resurrection of His Son.

“So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.” – John 16:22 NLT

Not only will they witness the supernatural transformation of Jesus from death to life, but they will also experience a spectacular alteration in their relationship with God. Things will be radically different. With Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples will find themselves experiencing an intimacy with God the Father that they have never known before. With the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they will be able to communicate directly with God. And Jesus informs them that even the nature of their questions will change.

“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” – John 16:23 ESV

Up until this point, the disciples had aimed all kinds of questions at Jesus. And most of their inquiries had to do with points of clarification and explanation. They rarely, if ever, petitioned Jesus for anything. Unless you include the request made by the mother of James and John. Jesus seems to be saying that the very nature of their questions is going to change. They will be less self-focused and motivated by ignorance. With the Spirit’s assistance, their questions will fall in line with God’s will and guarantee His gracious answer.

The disciples had been great at asking questions like, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4 ESV). They asked questions because they were looking for answers. But Jesus wants them to know that, in the future, their questions will become less focused on receiving information and more desirous of asking for God’s will to be done. The Holy Spirit will provide them with all the insight and information they will need. So, they won’t have to focus their questions on things they need to know. Instead, they can ask God for things that will further their task of making Him known.

And Jesus points out the key difference between their current line of questioning and how they will ask in the future.

“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” – John 16:24 ESV

They will ask in His name. This means that they will ask according to the very character and nature of Jesus as the Son of God. They will make requests of God in the same way that Jesus did, in keeping with the will of God. And John wrote of this Christlike attitude of petitioning the Father in a later letter he penned.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15 NLT

All of their questions will be answered. All their requests will be in keeping with God’s will and guaranteed to come to fruition. And all their sorrow will be turned to joy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Light Will Shine

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
    when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
    because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
    and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
    I shall look upon his vindication.
10 Then my enemy will see,
    and shame will cover her who said to me,
    “Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will look upon her;
    now she will be trampled down
    like the mire of the streets.

11 A day for the building of your walls!
    In that day the boundary shall be far extended.
12 In that day they will come to you,
    from Assyria and the cities of Egypt,
and from Egypt to the River,
    from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.
13 But the earth will be desolate
    because of its inhabitants,
    for the fruit of their deeds. Micah 7:8-13 ESV

As Micah prepares to bring his treatise to a close, he personalizes its content, addressing his own feelings as he watches all the events he has prophesied about begin to transpire. He is in distress, having to witness the very judgments God had warned about as they actually come about.

The nation is in a sorry state, filled with wicked, unethical, and immoral people. And as they stubbornly cling to their greed, selfishness, and idolatry, Micah declares his allegiance to the Lord.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me. – Micah 7:7 ESV

And in a sense, Micah is speaking on behalf of the faithful remnant who remain in Israel and Judah. Micah feels all alone, so, he speaks in the first-person singular, referring to himself with the terms, “me, my, and I.” You can sense the loneliness and isolation in his words. And they express the same sentiment the prophet Elijah felt after he had defeated the false prophets of Baal and was running from the wrath of Queen Jezebel.

Elijah traveled for 40 days and night and got as far as Mount Sinai, where he rested in a cave. It was there that God asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9 NLT). And Elijah had responded to God with a pitiful and pitiable story of self-sacrifice and suffering.

“I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” – 1 Kings 19:10 NLT

But rather than affirm Elijah’s assessment of his situation, God had him stand outside the entrance to the cave. He then provided the prophet with a pyrotechnic show he would not soon forget.

And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. – 1 Kings 19:11-12 NLT

And God followed up that divine display of His power and glory with the same question He had asked before. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13 NLT). And Elijah gave the same self-absorbed answer.

“I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” – 1 Kings 19:14 NLT

But God was not going to allow what happened on Mount Carmel to be turned into a referendum on Elijah’s sacrifice and subsequent suffering. It was not about Elijah. It was about the work that God was doing on behalf of the nation of Israel. Elijah was under the impression that he was the only one left. He was the only faithful servant of Yahweh remaining. But he was wrong. And God informed Elijah of the truth and assured him that he was far from alone. There were others.

“Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” – 1 Kings 19:18 NLT

And the same thing was true in Micah’s day. His myopic view of reality was wrong. And whether he realized it or not, his words were spoken on behalf of all those among the people of Israel who remained faithful to God. Micah may not have known their identities, but God did. So, when Micah spoke, he did so as the representative of all those Israelites who had kept their covenant commitment to Yahweh. Yes, they were few in number, but they were there.

Do not gloat over me, my enemies!
    For though I fall, I will rise again.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.
I will be patient as the Lord punishes me,
    for I have sinned against him. – Micah 7:8-9 NLT

Micah was not the last man standing. God was not going to leave His prophet as the sole survivor of His judgment. He had preserved a remnant, a small but faithful number of His people who had refused to bow their knees to false gods or to follow the lead of Israel’s lousy leaders.

Micah expressed confidence in God’s mercy and justice, declaring that Israel’s well-deserved judgment would be followed by God’s undeserved restoration.

he will take up my case
    and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies.
The Lord will bring me into the light,
   and I will see his righteousness. – Micah 7:9 NLT

In the midst of all that was happening around him, Micah placed his hope in the character of God. He kept focusing on God’s love, mercy, and faithfulness. He fully understood the need for God’s wrath, but he also rested in what he knew of God’s righteousness and unwavering love. God was not going to abandon His own. The darkness would be followed by light. But that light would not be for the benefit of Micah alone.

The prophet knew that the day would come when God turned the tables on Israel’s enemies, all those who had taunted and mocked them by asking, “So where is the Lordthat God of yours?” (Micah 7:10 NLT). The faithful remnant would one day see their God show up and dress down their enemies, giving them what they deserved. And Micah, speaking on behalf of the remnant, shares his eager anticipation for that day.

With my own eyes I will see their downfall;
    they will be trampled like mud in the streets. – Micah 7:10 NLT

In verse 11, Micah shifts his focus to the “latter days,” which he has addressed before. This is a reference to the Millennium, that future period of time when God will re-gather and reestablish Israel in her land and place His Son on the throne of David. This will be a time marked by redemption, restoration, and the re-establishment of Israel as His chosen people. And Micah excitedly describes the unprecedented nature of those days.

In that day, Israel, your cities will be rebuilt,
    and your borders will be extended.
People from many lands will come and honor you—
    from Assyria all the way to the towns of Egypt,
from Egypt all the way to the Euphrates River,
    and from distant seas and mountains. – Micah 7:11-12 NLT

Micah was confident that God would restore Israel. And he was not alone. The prophet, Obadiah, also wrote of Israel’s future restoration by God.

“But Jerusalem will become a refuge for those who escape;
    it will be a holy place.
And the people of Israel will come back
    to reclaim their inheritance.” – Obadiah 1:17 NLT

And the prophet, Zechariah, provided further details concerning that day.

“Jerusalem will someday be so full of people and livestock that there won’t be room enough for everyone! Many will live outside the city walls. Then I, myself, will be a protective wall of fire around Jerusalem, says the Lord. And I will be the glory inside the city!” – Zechariah 2:4-5 NLT

But before that future day of restoration could happen, judgment would have to come. In verse 13, Micah returns to his prediction of God’s pending punishment on the nation of Israel.

But the land will become empty and desolate
    because of the wickedness of those who live there. – Micah 7:13 NLT

The future of Israel was bright, but there was going to be a period of prolonged darkness in the land as God delivered His promised judgment on them for their sins against Him. This darkness would pervade the land for generations and would still be evident when Jesus arrived on the scene at His incarnation. Jesus declared of Himself:

“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.” – John 3:19-20 NLT

And that darkness would remain throughout the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, ending with His death on a cross. And when He died, darkness covered the land (Matthew 27:45). But He rose from the dead. And He eventually returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But the day is coming when Jesus will return.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

The Light of the world will penetrate the darkness once again. But this time, He will bring a permanent end to the gloom of sin and death that has shrouded the world in darkness for generations. He and His Father will become the permanent source of light for the world.

And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. – Revelation 21:23-24 NLT

And even in the midst of his less-than-ideal circumstances, the prophet Micah could eagerly long for that day.

He will bring me out to the light;
    I shall look upon his vindication. – Micah 7:9 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Greater Joy

The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:1-4 ESV

Of the three letters that John penned, this one appears to be the most personal in nature. It is addressed to someone called Gaius, an individual for whom John held strong affection. He refers to him as “beloved” Gaius. The Greek word John used is agapētos and it means “well-loved.” We know nothing about the relationship between these two men, but Gaius was obviously someone whom John loved dearly.

During the 1st-Century, Gaius was a common Greek name, and there are a number of men mentioned in the New Testament who share that appellation. But we have no way of knowing who this particular individual was or the nature of his relationship to John. It is likely that he lived somewhere in Asia Minor and had a connection to the local congregation to whom John wrote in his second letter.

In his salutation to Gaius, John utilizes the same wording he used in his second letter to address “the elect lady and her children.” He describes Gaius as someone “whom I love in truth” (3 John 1:1 ESV). Four times in four verses, John will bring up the topic of truth, something he addressed in his second letter as well. John is not simply saying, “I love you, and that’s the truth!” He is making a theological statement. In his second letter, he qualified his greeting to the local congregation to whom he wrote by adding, “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1:1 ESV).

It was God’s love for sinful humanity, as displayed in the gracious gift of His Son, that made it possible for John to love others. He was able to love because God had first loved him (1 John 4:19). God had showered John with His unconditional love and poured out His Spirit upon him, providing him with the capacity to share that love with others. And John’s love for Gaius went well beyond mere brotherly love. It was the love of one redeemed and forgiven sinner for another. They shared a common faith in Jesus Christ and had been adopted into the same family by God the Father. Paul describes this unique, shared relationship this way:

…you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:15-17 NLT

So, John wanted Gaius to know that their mutual love for one another was based on the truth of God’s love for them. God had loved them enough to send His Son to die for them. And John’s love for Gaius extended to his desire that his brother and friend experience health and wholeness, both physically and spiritually.

I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul – 3 John 1:2 ESV

For John, spiritual well-being superseded physical health and prosperity. He knew that growth in godliness was not a guarantee of physical comfort and ease. A life of Christlikeness was sometimes accompanied by pain and suffering. John had heard Jesus Himself declare the reality of hardship for those who place their faith in Christ.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. – John 16:33 NLT

And he was probably familiar with the words of Paul and Barnabas, spoken to the saints in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia. As these two men had traveled through these regions, visiting the local church, “they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NLT).

John knew that suffering and sorrow were a common feature of the walk of faith. But he let Gaius know that he was praying for his health. He had no wish to see his friend suffer hardship. So, he made it a habit to ask God to protect and prosper Gaius physically and spiritually.

But John was especially grateful to hear of Gaius’ spiritual growth. He had rejoiced greatly upon receiving news that Gaius was “walking in the truth” (3 John 1:3 ESV). This young man’s life was marked by a commitment to the truth of the Gospel. It permeated every area of his life. His faith in Christ, marked by his belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, was all-encompassing. His behavior was consistent with his professed belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

And John let Gaius know just how much this pleased him.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:4 ESV

Paul expressed a similar sentiment to the believers in Philippi:

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:2-4 ESV

Gaius was living out his faith in tangible ways that others could see. His belief in Christ was radically altering his behavior. And this brought great joy to his friend and shepherd. As an apostle of Jesus Christ and an elder who had oversight for the body of Christ, John found great satisfaction when he witnessed believers living out their faith in daily life. He expressed this sentiment to the local congregation to whom he wrote his second letter.

How happy I was to meet some of your children and find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded. – 2 John 1:4 NLT

While John could not guarantee Gaius a life free from trouble and marked by physical health and prosperity, he could encourage his friend to continue in the faith, allowing the truth of the Gospel to saturate and sanctify his every thought and deed.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson